One of my earliest memories is the smell of coffee, but not roasted coffee. I am talking about the smell in the air when coffee beans are left to dry out on patios.
My next memory of coffee is being at my grandmother’s house: once a week she would ‘roast’ the beans on a hot griddle (comal in Spanish) and then pass them through the Guatemalan grindstone, also known as piedra de moler. Then she used to make a buche de café (a filter made out of a pair of old tights) to produce a five-litre pot for us to drink over the next few days. I’d be lying if I said I could remember the particular notes and the aromas of the coffee, but to me those were happy times, even though they were also difficult: coffee, salt and tortillas were often all we had.
Like many other Guatemalans, I used to drink instant coffee and would often ask myself: why is it that people refer to Guatemalan coffee as one of the best in the world, when to most of us it is just a way to fill our stomachs? The answer came to me many years later: it is because we export most (and certainly the best) beans, leaving the leftovers to the locals. This happens in every coffee-producing country, not just Guatemala.
My life has changed so much since then. Some years ago, after leaving home to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Switzerland, a friend of mine gave me a bag of beans from Guatemala with the words, ‘Welcome to the world of coffee.’ I never realised that coffee could be so delicious and so complex. I felt a surge of pride and a desire to learn more about coffee, not just from my home country but from the rest of the world. I was soon hooked.
By then I knew that running a restaurant wasn't going to be for me, and so I spent some time doing work of a more corporate nature in the food and drink industry. Meanwhile I dedicated every spare moment I had to learning about and experimenting with coffee. I moved to Norwich and set up a coffee laboratory at home. This research eventually led me to a placement at Caffènation HQ in Antwerp Belgium, roasting coffee beans. The passion, respect and, ultimately, love that these people had for their product was truly inspiring. I knew that I wanted to become a part of this production chain of hard working and caring coffee professionals.
Kofra was another two years in the making. Norwich was ready for a fresh coffee shop and I was ready to work hard to make the best coffee we possibly could, but it was difficult to find the right location, at the right price, at the right time. Just as I was about to put my dreams on hold, a place came up, and on the 1st of April 2014 we finally opened our doors.
I was well prepared for the challenges ahead. From the age of ten, I had to take on a job alongside my schooling, and that's when I began working in professional kitchens. This had taught me discipline, structure and respect for the ingredients, but most of all, that we are only as good as our last service. No doubt this has made me a difficult and demanding boss, but I have been blessed with the opportunity to lead a team who care deeply about their craft. The one thing we all have in common at Kofra is our love for coffee. Quite often we find ourselves on our days off talking coffee at the shop. Kofra would not exist without their effort, love and dedication.
Since opening, I have discovered that Norwich has a surprising number of ‘Internet savvys’, as they are becoming known in the industry. These people are usually aged between 17 and 23 years old; they read blogs, buy magazines, order beans online and grind their own beans at home. They know exactly where the coffee comes from, when it is in season, how it should taste, how it could be prepared and even how much the coffee really costs. It is exciting to see more and more of them working in coffee shops around the city and some of them starting to open their own espresso bars. I truly believe that they, like my own team at Kofra, are the future of this industry, and part of my job is to inspire them to become not only good baristas, but good business people: conscientious business people. ‘Everybody is a guardian of that single coffee cherry from the time it gets picked until the time it ends up in your cup,’ a friend once told me, and I would like to pass that philosophy on to the next generation of coffee professionals.